‘Fear and Laughter: A Night at London’s Grand Guignol’

Richard Hand, Mike Wilson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Between 1920 and 1922 the theatre producer José Levy enlisted the help of Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Russell Thorndike and others to stage a season of Grand Guignol plays at the Little Theatre in John Street in an attempt to establish a permanent Grand Guignol theatre in London. Closely modelled on the original Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Paris, offering a series of one-act plays in a single evening and alternating between horrors and comedy (the notorious ‘hot and cold shower’), London’s Grand Guignol played forty-three plays over eight seasons, including translations from the French repertoire and original pieces from established and emerging British playwrights. Inevitably, perhaps, many of the plays proposed were censored, or even refused licences by the Lord Chamberlain and the project’s closure after only two years was, at least in part, due to the particular interest paid by the Censor. For this lecture, Professors Hand and Wilson present an introductory talk on London’s Grand-Guignol, followed by performances of two plays from the repertoire, performed by members of the Grand-Guignol Laboratory, a group established by the authors at the University of Glamorgan in order to explore the performance practice of Grand-Guignol theatre. The two plays are: The Better Half by Noël Coward The Person Unknown by H. F. Maltby In many ways these short plays exemplify the repertoire of London’s Grand-Guignol. The Better Half is a witty comedy and satire on sexual manners and mores, whilst The Person Unknown by H. F. Maltby (who later went on to write many of the screenplays for Tod Slaughter) is a post First World War shocker about the return from the trenches of an injured soldier.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationN/A
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Jan 1990
Event Invited Lecture and Performance, The Maggie Collins Lecture, 2008 - Society for Theatre Research
Duration: 1 Dec 20081 Dec 2008


Conference Invited Lecture and Performance, The Maggie Collins Lecture, 2008


  • grand-guignol
  • london theatre
  • horror theatre


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